Altair - the first PC

Altair - the first PC

Altair is often regarded as the first personal computer, although it was one of those switches and lights computers - programming is done by arranging a set of switches in a special order, and the results appear as different combinations of lights. In othe r words, such a machine is a genuine computer, but absolutely useless, as Steve Wozniak, one of the PC pioneers, put it.)

After the first microprocessors had come onto the market, Ed Roberts, an engineer at MITS, a small calculator company in Texas, decided to build a kit computer, which he intended to sell to hobbyists. He chose Intel's 8080 as the CPU for his computer, sinc e this chip was the most advanced and powerful at the time. As Roberts wanted to sell his computer for less than $500 and the official price for the 8080 was already at $360, he contacted Intel and could finally receive the chip for only $75 apiece.

By the end of 1974, Roberts finished his computer, which was named Altair. When the Altair was introduced on the cover of the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics as the first personal computer, which would go for $397 only, the market response was in credible. The low price was the actual sensation, because it was largely known that the price for the Intel 8080 CPU powering the Altair was already at $360. So many hobbyists, engineers and programmers who had keenly waited for their own personal computer , which they could experiment on at home, welcomed the new product and ordered "their" Altair on the spot.

Roberts had never expected such a great response and his small firm was flooded by those immediate orders (more than 4000). He boosted up the production, but still could not meet the huge demand. The Altair was a success at first, and Roberts sold many of them.

However, he had increased production at the expense of quality and further refinement of his computer, so the Altair brought along a lot of trouble and was finally supplanted by other computers which were superior.

Nevertheless, the Altair as the first successful microcomputer, contributed a lot to the PC revolution, since it encouraged other people to build personal computers (e.g. IMSAI, Apple).

Martin Groeger
Last modified: Mon Jul 8 05:36:41 PDT